Marvel Studios' Echo DP Kira Kelly Explains How the Historic Choctaw Scenes Were Created

By Russ Milheim Posted:
Echo, Alaqua Cox as Maya Lopez, Choctaw Nation

The director of photography for Echo shared details about how they made a historic scene for the Choctaw Nation and the MCU.

The Disney+ series follows Alaqua Cox’s Maya Lopez as she reconnects with her ancestors who are part of the Choctaw Nation, an indigenous group local to what is now Oklahoma. It's those relatives of hers, included in the show's stellar cast, that give the hero some unique superpowers—living up to her titular name.

Needless to say, the portrayal of the Indian nation has been important for many people worldwide.

Filming Echo’s Historic Choctaw Scene

Echo, Dawn of Time scene
Marvel Studios

In an exclusive interview with The Direct, Echo cinematographer Kira Kelly spoke about how they created a historic Choctaw scene for Marvel Studios’ latest series. 

The sequence in question was the opening moment of the show, which the filmmaker dubbed the Dawn of Time. According to Kelly, “This is the first time that the Choctaw story of creation had ever been shown:”

“So that whole sequence, there was so much prep and just so much thought going into it. For us, this is the first time that the Choctaw story of creation had ever been shown, it'd ever been filmed. And so, for us, it was an honor. And then also just like, we have to get this right, really sort of, like, visually tell this. And so we were trying to figure out a way to create this cave and do this world that had never been seen before.”

Kelly gave praise to production designer Chris Trujillo for putting “so much care” into the scenes:

“There's also the practical elements and there's the VFX stuff. We had a really incredible production designer named Chris Trujillo, and Chris just put so much care into creating the cave and all the spirals and the water elements and things like that. The whole stage itself was like on a huge platform. I think it was at least 20 feet up so that we could have space for all the water.”

In the center of the room, the cinematographer explained how they built a complicated pool that would swap out with a hole so the cast could come through:

“And then in the center of it, [we had] that tube in the middle, there was like the pool, that's just like a pool, and then we'd have to swap it out and create this hole that the cast could be able to come down through so… they're sliding down this tunnel with like all these lights shining through as we get the shafts of light up. And then the other big part was the stuff up beyond on the top. There were VFX effects elements, obviously, but we had to have her interact with—like, the character is holding up the ceiling, basically.”

Echo, Dawn of Time scene
Marvel Studios

She then detailed how they built a rig to convince audiences the character was holding up the ceiling:

“So on chain motors, we had this circular, I think it was about eight feet in diameter, set piece that they built that was translucent, so we could still put the lighting down through it. And she's pushing against it. So it was like this whole, there were a lot of elements that we're just like, 'Oh, gosh…'”

As for the look of the location, Kelly recalled “looking at examples of glow worms and cabins and in Australia somewhere” to pinpoint what the core of the Earth might look like:

“I remember we all spent weeks looking at examples of glow worms and cabins and in Australia somewhere and really sort of figuring out what does the core of the Earth look like. And then to see the amazing jobs that the VFX department did to sweeten all that was just really, really satisfying by the end.”

She admitted the Dawn of Time scene “was the one that gave [her] the most sleepless evenings:”

 “I would say the Dawn of Time, technically, was the one that gave me the most sleepless evenings. And also just because there were so many departments involved with that. That was a big one. I would say also... the powwow was—actually, it wasn't as hard. It was just logistically trying to get all the people in the same space and have such a big area to light for night. No, I think probably Dawn of Time. I think Dawn of Time was like a big one…”

Before boarding Echo, Kelly noted how she was unfamiliar with the Choctaw but knew of the group:

“I honestly was not. I really, I was not familiar, like, obviously, I've heard of the Choctaw. But that was it... I didn't have any sort of knowledge. And it was really great, during prep, it was August of 2021. Me and Sydney [Freeland] and Chris [Fields], our production designer and our costume designer, we all went to the Choctaw Nation because they were in Oklahoma and they were having a powwow. And so we had never experienced a powwow. So it's like, Okay, let's go check this out.”

Echo stickball scene
Marvel Studios

“We also got to see a stickball game,” exclaimed Kelly, and even partake in a powwow: 

“And we also got to see a stickball game, which is featured in Episode 2. They had like stickball there. And it was just kind of amazing just to kind of be in the powwow and just see it and just see just these beautiful, just gorgeous regalia and costumes that people had that like had been built--these are, these are not things that you can rent. We could not have rented those. When we did our power [Episode] 5, those were some of the same people that were in the powwow that we saw in 2021.”

Speaking about that big powwow scene in Episode 5, the filmmaker noted how it was “the most emotional” moment to film and that it was “an honor to be a part of something you’re not used to:”

“But the coolest thing for me to shoot really was the powwow scene in [Episode 5], I think the most emotional one. Because it was just like you kind of get there. And, like, we were within that powwow... I think powwows obviously have been depicted before in film. But there was something really nice about being ground-level cameras inside of it and doing it at night..."

She recalled how invested the crew became as they shot "over several nights:"

"I remember... We shot that over several nights, and after we wrapped the first night, the crew was just so into it, and the powwow, even though we cut, it was still going. And so the crew got to then, like, be a part of it. And we had the sun coming up and then our lights coming down. It was just one of the most emotional; I think that not only for me but for the whole crew really felt like we were, it's an honor to be a part of something you're not used to.”

While the show takes place in Oklahoma, the majority of the series was filmed in Georgia.

The cinematographer admitted that while “Georgia is great,” it was still a challenge to make it match up to what Oklahoma might look like—with the state’s large amount of trees being a notable obstacle:

“Georgia is great. I guess the biggest challenge was just like, there's so many trees, and it's so green there, that you're constantly trying to either take down the green of the trees or, like, try to not show as many trees. So that was a bit of a challenge. But our locations department did a great job of finding places for us. We shot mainly, the Marvel stage is about 45 minutes outside of Atlanta, and then we shot like an hour south of that. So it was pretty south of the city.”

Throughout the series, audiences meet some of Maya Lopez’s Choctaw ancestors, each providing Echo with a unique power.

When asked how they worked to make each of them feel unique, Kelly noted that for Lowak in Episode 2, they “shot with spherical lenses:”

“We definitely had like the glowing hands that were part of it, like kind of symbolized when it was coming up. In 102 for that ancestor, Lowak, we shot with spherical lenses, mainly like a 12 mil, and we really just got in on the action, and we're really like wide going close. We also went full frame with that. So you lose the anamorphic frame lines.”

Kelly explained how it wasn’t just “black and white photography” that the team used in Episode 3 but also “infrared photography:”

“[Episode] 3 was [directed by Catriona McKenzie]... and also the DP was Magdalena Gorka, and they did some really beautiful infrared stuff for that black and white stuff. So, it's not just black-and-white photography. It's infrared photography, which was kind of stunning to show the beginning of that character... We really tried to make each one have its own visual touchstone. And we wanted to, of course, like with Maya's mom, really play that in a way that was [a] little bit of a flashback... It was fun to have the ability and have production being open to us using various techniques to be able to show that.”

As for which ability of Maya’s was the hardest to visually portray, the filmmaker shared that it would be Lowak and her ability “to see all angles” and “think ahead and outmaneuver people:”

“I would say Lowak. Yeah, because it was, her ability was more of just being able to see all angles and see the stickball... her being able to see and kind of play out each different angle and the sort of cunning or the sort of, the ability to think ahead and outmaneuver people. That was probably the hardest one to show.”

How the Unique, Cultural Side of Disney+'s Echo Shined

Some of the most unique and interesting elements of Echo belong to the spotlight shone on the Choctaw Nation. Exploring its community and culture is something not everyone has been able to do, and getting to do so in a Marvel Studios project gives them some impressive visibility.

Because of those stories told, Echo already cements its place within the expansive MCU pantheon.

Maya Lopez wasn't the only indigenous character explored by Marvel Studios this year.

The animated What If…? series created a completely original superhero named Kahhori for Season 2, a member of the Mohawk tribe who crosses paths with the power of the Tesseract. Devery Jacobs, who plays Bonnie in Echo, voices the Multiverse hero in her debut outing

While Marvel Studios may still be contending with various issues as it attempts to right its ship, exploring new cultures and people from lesser-known backgrounds and situations is always a refreshing move.

Echo is now streaming on Disney+.

- In This Article: Echo
Release Date
January 10, 2024
Devery Jacobs
- About The Author: Russ Milheim
Russ Milheim is the Industry Relations Coordinator at The Direct. On top of utilizing his expertise on the many corners of today’s entertainment to cover the latest news and theories, he establishes and maintains communication and relations between the outlet and the many studio and talent representatives.